Posts filed under “Currency”

No Free Lunch: Ongoing Ramifications of an Easy Fed

I had lunch with Richard Clarida a few years ago after meeting him at CNBC. He is a very nice guy, a Columbia economics professor, a former assistant U.S. Treasury secretary for economic policy, and is now a global strategic advisor at PIMCO.

He was actually introduced to me as "one of the few people who managed to escape from the White House with his reputation intact."

The professor has a very intriguing WSJ Op-Ed today, titled "The Dollar’s Got Further to Slide." My alternative title would be easy No Free Lunch: Ongoing Ramifications of an Easy Fed.

Richard argues, somewhat incidentally, that the dollar’s slide, as well as its future
prospects, must be consider in the context of
Fed action over the past decade:

Clarid_20071022195644"As the nearby chart shows, since 2001 there have three
distinct phases of what I have called the dollar downdraft. From 2001
though the spring of 2004, there was a trend decline in the dollar
against the currencies of other major countries. This occurred during
an initially sluggish U.S. recovery and an aggressive ease in Fed
policy that drove the fed funds rate down to 1% and kept it there for a
considerable period.

In 2004, as the U.S. expansion was robust,
productivity growth remained strong, and the Fed began hiking interest
rates to normalize policy "at a measured pace," the dollar downdraft
was put on hold. During this period from June 2004 (the first Fed hike)
to August of 2006 (the first Fed pause), the dollar was in a trading
range, neither trending up nor down, a fact that surprised a market
consensus going into 2005 that a dollar fall for that year was
inevitable . . .

Since the
August 2006 meeting, at which the Fed announced at least a pause if not
an end to the interest-rate hike cycle, the dollar downdraft has
resumed. There are several reasons for this, and these reasons suggest
the dollar downdraft is likely to continue for some time to come.
First, the U.S. economy in the second half of 2006 slipped into what
has now been more than a year of below-trend growth. Moreover, this
occurred in the context of buoyant global growth, not only in the
developing world, but also in Europe, Canada and Asia.

This relative U.S. underperformance is likely to
continue, as the economy works through the headwinds of the housing
contraction and consumer retrenchment in the face of tighter credit
conditions and a soft labor market. But a U.S. recession is not
necessarily in the cards, in large part because the Fed will probably
ease more in future months to provide insurance against an economic
contraction.

In the rest of the piece, the professor argues that the US is likely to avoid a recession, as the  Fed stands ready to cut more aggressively if need be. If and when that happens, we should expect more dollar weakness.

One of the corollaries to this is that any Fed action has genuine, long lasting consequences. When rates are held at very low levels for long periods of time, as we saw from 2003-04, there are serious consequences. When the Fed is tightening, there are also major ramifications.   

However, the cost for economic stimulus is inflation, and as we have seen during this past cycle, a weak US currency.

However, those pundits who have begged for rates failed to consider: there is no free lunch. Its the first rule of economics, and the cost of this stimulus is elevated prices, and ongoing inflation.

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Source:
The Dollar’s Got Further to Slide
RICHARD CLARIDA
WSJ, October 23, 2007; Page A19
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119310280353567921.html

Category: Commodities, Currency, Federal Reserve, Inflation, Taxes and Policy

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Category: Consumer Spending, Currency, Economy, Markets, Real Estate, Retail

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Category: Blog Spotlight, Currency, Digital Media, Financial Press, Weblogs

Fear of a Dollar Collapse, part II

Yesterday, we discussed the potential impact of the ongoing weakening of the US dollar.

Today, we look at a few printing press Money Supply issues. Our focus: The spread between the Fed liquidity action (a/k/a Repos) and the M2 money supply measures.

This is simply a measure of how much cash the Fed is injecting into the system.

The following Bloomberg chart shows the spread between the two of these monetary measures. It is quite instructive:

Mzm_m2_spread

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Speaking of surges: As you can clearly see above (bottom left chart), the amount of MZM (repos) versus M2 during 2007 is enormous.

This means that the Fed is "inflating" at a rate faster today than it did right after 9/11, or during the deflationary scare of 2003.

As we asked Wednesday night, "What did the Fed Chair and the FOMC see that spooked them into a half point (over) reaction?"  I am not sure what is was (and we’ve discussed many of the potential issues over the past 2 years), but the Fed is obviously scared witless. 

The manifestations of this free  printing press are many: Any commodity priced in plentiful dollars will cost more. Crude is now $82; and Inflation Fears Send Gold to 27-Year High.

Why? One way to think about it is supply and demand. Print ALOT more dollars and each one is worth a little less. 

Or, consider it this way: Extracting Oil or Gold from the earth ain’t easy: We have to explore for Oil, determine where it is, how deep, what quality, etc. Then we have to use lots of heavy machinery to extract it, ship it to where it gets processed, refined, used in chemical manufacturing. Some of it gets refined into gasoline, and it is then transported to a network of gasoline stations, and it gets pumped into your car — all for less per gallon than diet Coke or peach Snapple!

For gold, the process is not all that dissimilar.

Just crank up the printing press: Its cheap and easy. But why should us gold and oil producers exchange our hard won commodities (its hard work) for pieces of paper you people are simply cranking out for free? Either give us something of real value — or instead, we will insist on more of your crappy ittle pieces of green paper.

Thus, the inflationary repercussions of a "free money" policy. In fact, every commodity that is priced in dollars can potentially see much higher prices:  Gold, Oil, Wheat, Soybeans, Copper, Timber, Corn, etc.

Its easy to understand why inflation has been called The Cruelest Tax.

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BTW, for those of you without a pricey Bloomberg terminal on their desks, a good source for (free) data of this kind is the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’ publication, Monetary Trends. There are always a solid collection of charts showing money supply, economic conditions, etc. Not to get too wonky on you, but this is simply pornography for econ geeks.

There are a few charts after the jump worth reviewing. For the less visual of you, they show that Money Supply continues to grow at a rapid pace, that bank borrowings are increasing.

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Sources:
Monetary Trends
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’
October 2007
http://research.stlouisfed.org/publications/mt/20071001/mtpub.pdf

Where Crude Goes Now May Depend on Dollar
Futures Close Near $82
MATT CHAMBERS
WSJ, September 20, 2007; Page C1
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119019169756632291.html

Inflation Fears Send Gold to 27-Year High
Weakening Dollar Also an Influence; Metal Hits $732.40
ALLEN SYKORA
WSJ, September 21, 2007; Page C6
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119028926640733763.html

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Category: Commodities, Credit, Currency, Energy, Federal Reserve, Inflation